One Spark


Archaeological group aims to increase the community’s understanding of Northeast Florida history


The Cowford Archeological Research Society aims to increase the community’s understanding of Northeast Florida history by digging up the clues of the past and preserving them for future generations.

The group has started a couple of small projects and are participating in One Spark 2014 to raise funds for equipment and staff.

It takes a large amount of equipment and people to do the work, President Dean Sais said. Sais owns a company that manufactures archaeology equipment and has donated some of the equipment used by CARS.

The first project the society undertook was a small, one-meter-square section of the parking lot of the Grand Masonic Lodge of Florida in downtown Jacksonville last June. The group found debris from a wide span of time periods, from modern rubble to material around 1,000 years old, Sais said.

Around 12 volunteers were active in a couple of small projects last fall. One project was in the LaVilla neighborhood downtown, the other was in the Fort George Island area. Around 30 volunteers have signed up for future projects.

CARS has operated on an entirely volunteer basis, but Sais plans to hire staff when the group's funding increases. The society would like to build a lab to better examine the artifacts it finds, Sais said, such as the ones found in LaVilla.

The LaVilla site was once a Civil War gun battery. Volunteers found a rifle cartridge and a tool that was used to clean the cannon, according to George Burns, the society’s principal investigator. Burns is a registered professional archaeologist and is responsible for approving all of the project activities and writing professional reports. He said that the artifacts were found about three feet deep, under garbage that had built up over the years.

CARS is planning a project on the west side of Jacksonville to explore as many as several hundred acres of private property that was once a Confederate Civil War camp, Sais said. He was purposefully vague as to the exact location of the project, to protect the area from scavengers and looters.

The society operates under an agreement with the land owners to collect and identify artifacts. Once discovered, the artifacts are photographed, washed and returned to the property owner. All of the property owners CARS has worked with so far have agreed to donate the artifacts to museums.

The goal of the research is to find the missing pieces, Burns said. “There is as much history here as in St. Augustine, people just don’t know it,” Burns said.

While CARS is focused on searching around Jacksonville for historical evidence, it is also looking to engage students and promote educational activities. Hosting school field trips and other events to promote the history of the area, could be the future of CARS if it is able to get a piece of the more than $3 million up for grabs at One Spark.

“We have enough to keep us busy for the next 10,000 years,” Sais said.

This story was reported by Ignite Media, an independent news bureau created by University of North Florida students.

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